HOUSE, SENATE NEAR LAST EFFORT FOR AFRICA-CBI BILL COMPROMISE
Byline: Joanna Ramey
WASHINGTON — House and Senate lawmakers aren’t giving up — yet — on legislation to drop duties on apparel made in sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean Basin.
Backers of the bill are set to meet Tuesday to try again to negotiate a compromise. Time is running out in the congressional calendar to move the measure before lawmakers’ attention shifts to China and whether it should be given permanent normal trade relations status in its bid to join the World Trade Organization.
The Africa-Caribbean Basin bill meeting is considered to be one of the last opportunities to find common ground, according to Capitol Hill staffers and industry officials, who’ve been trying to sort out a deal for several months.
The origin of textiles covered by the legislation lingers as the sticking point. The Senate wants only apparel made of U.S. textiles to be granted duty-free status, while the House wants a broader textile-origin rule.
In an effort to persuade strident Senate backers to ease their U.S.-textile-only stance, House trade lawmakers last Thursday called a meeting with officials from the American Textile Manufactures Institute. But ATMI officials remained unconvinced.
“I sound like a broken record,” said Doug Bulcao, ATMI’s director of government relations, of the message the group took to the meeting with Ways and Means Chairman Bill Archer (R., Texas), Rep. Charles Rangel (D., N.Y.), and others. “We support the Senate version. Period. They said they wanted us to change our position, but we said we couldn’t and there’s no justification for doing so.”
In the 1 1/2-hour meeting, ATMI officials were reminded that the Caribbean Basin trade breaks won’t happen unless a deal can be worked out on Africa, according to attendees. U.S. textile makers are keen on the Caribbean Basin portion of the bill passing as a means to stimulate sales, but they don’t see much growth coming from Africa under the legislation.